Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Updated Oct. 13, 2004 at 1:00 am, revised slightly at 12:15 pm.
The Keyes- Obama Senate Debate. No fireworks. Just good, serious, thoughtful discussion. A technical tie. Can Keyes sustain that tone for 21 days? Does it matter?
The mainstream media, at least CBS-2 [Flannery, who was both a panelist and 10:00 pm local news commentator], ABC-7 [Shaw], and WGN- 9 in Chicago and Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn on his blog [] were all quite surprised at the conduct of the U. S. Senate Candidate debate, and, in particular, at the lack of provocative and incendiary comments and questions by Republican Senate Candidate Alan Keyes.

Contrary to the media expectations, it was a serious, thoughtful, intelligent and respectful discussion by both Barack Obama and Alan Keyes of many of the important foreign, domestic and social policy issues of the day. The issues ranged across Iraq, Iran, North Korea, federal government support for infrastructure and agriculture, health care and prescription drugs, medical savings accounts, airports, revitalization of the coal industry, ethanol, the wonder of family farms, off-shore sourcing of jobs, trade, tariffs and multilateral trade agreements.

It was only at the end of the debate that panelist/moderator Craig Dellimore of WBBM-780 AM Radio raised the Keyes morality/abortion theme by asking Keyes about the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, live birth abortions and infanticide, with Keyes responding and then using Obama's response to segue into his one minute closing statement-- a homily that it all comes down to promoting the moral culture and moral values that underly the family structure-- and families will then solve society's ills, including education, housing, etc.

With a very different emphasis but some similarity in his conclusion that took the listener to "families," Obama told us in his one minute close that he didn't just talk the talk but he "walked the walk," when he worked as a community organizer, worked as a civil rights lawyer and worked in the state legislature during the last eight years to help "ordinary, working families." Moreover, Obama emphasized that "government can't solve all of our problems, but it can help in terms of dealing with the crushing burdens that many of our middle class families are experiencing."

Again, surprisingly to the untutored, there were large areas of agreement between the two candidates on federal government assistance to agriculture and infrastructure improvement, trade and jobs [both Obama and Keyes are hostile to free trade and both incorrectly blame bad trade agreements for loss of American jobs, with Obama being more subtle and diplomatic than Keyes when stating his opposition to free trade].

That left a few areas for disagreement: Iraq, health care and drugs, airports, tax and spending policy, abortion and same sex marriage- which Keyes slipped in on his closing statement.

The Iraq, global terrorism differences very much tracked the Kerry-Bush differences, although, of course, Keyes was much more articulate and intelligent in his statements than his counterpart [Bush]—as was Obama, although to a lesser extent because Kerry is a little harder to top than Bush—at least when it comes to speaking ability and style. In short, Keyes sees a global terrorism threat with many connections and therefore talks of opening up fronts, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama sees virtually no connections and cites, somewhat mistakenly, Bremer, Rumsfeld and Powell as supporting his position. This would be a good political issue for Keyes to take to the Illinois electorate. Which of the two positions by the Senate Candidates makes Illinois residents feel safer?

On health care, Obama tried the old Clinton/Gore/Edwards trick—let me tell you about a guy in Galesburg, IL [home of a Maytag plant, the closing of which was announced at the end of 2002, and plant production ceased about a month ago- resulting in a total loss of about 1600 plant jobs in the area; the plant shut-down was discussed a lot by Obama and others during the Democratic Senate primary] who lost his job and health insurance [due to a bad trade agreement, no doubt--and indeed, it was Keyes who said this, using the point to take the discussion from health care to trade and jobs], and whose son had a liver transplant and now must pay $50,000 a year, or so, in prescription drug costs. To which Keyes said, essentially--hard cases make bad law and bad policy.

Obama also said that the government should use its vast purchasing market power on behalf of drugs for seniors, as Obama thinks Wal-Mart uses its power to get discounts, in general. Keyes should have pointed out that the Federal government, unlike Wal-Mart, would have monopsony [single buyer] market power if it bought drugs on behalf of the 43 million seniors covered by Medicare. That would mean that the government discounts would be too great, and the drug prices would be forced below the level to remunerate research and development costs, meaning that new drug development would dry up. Unfortunately, Keyes knows very little economics, perhaps as little as Obama, so Keyes did not say this. [They both passed through the Harvard gates, and it shows, at least with respect to economics]

However, Keyes did point out that we have to make sure that drug companies and the government get remunerated for their Research and Development costs, or there will be no new drugs in the future, which, of course, is true.

On abortion, Obama pointed out that the live birth abortion state statute was not needed because "Existing Illinois law mandates that any infant that has a chance for survival is provided life saving treatment." Obama also emphasized, as his campaign office has said previously, that he would have voted for the federal Live Birth Infant Protection Act, which had wording, Obama said, that was quite different from the state statute and took care not to "encroach," on Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, there was no time for a panelist to seek a response from Keyes-- as panelist/moderator Jim Anderson of IRN explained it was time to go to closing statements.

So, you are asking, why was Keyes so reasonable and restrained in his style at the debate? And, more importantly, why didn’t Keyes adopt this demeanor two months ago when he entered the race? He probably would not be ahead, but he would have been a lot closer to Obama than is currently the case.

Indeed, Archpundit [] reminded me in the context of his recent blog discussion of the Jack Roeser/Keyes Campaign coordination issue what I had written on August 18th in this blog:

“Speaking to a full crowd of 315 members and guests at a City Club of Chicago lunch program, Republican U. S. Senate Candidate Alan Keyes seemed to “tone it down,” a bit today [August 18th]. Of course, a “toned down,” Alan Keyes is still an extremely dynamic, articulate and provocative speaker.

If Keyes is to have a chance of winning, or even climbing into the 40 % vote range, [A much more mainstream, but less dynamic and very underfunded Republican Senate Candidate Jim Durkin, got 38% of the vote in 2002 against senior U. S. Senator Dick Durbin], he will need to do many more such speeches and engage in many more such conversations that adopt today’s style. Some of Keyes financial supporters, such as conservative Family Tax Network leader Jack Roeser, have been trying to persuade Senate Candidate Alan Keyes to focus a bit more on selling, and perhaps even a bit of a softer-sell. We’ll see if Ambassador Keyes wants to do that and if he can adopt a more diplomatic style." Jeff Berkowitz, Public Affairs blog, August 18, 2004.

Moreover, when I taped my half hour show [Public Affairs] with Keyes three days after his City Club appearance, it was also, for the most part, a serious discussion of foreign and domestic policy issues, without a great deal of discussion of morality, except for the last few minutes on abortion and same sex marriage, which I had intentionally back-ended so as not to have those topics dominate the show.

So, clearly, Alan can behave himself if not baited by the press and if he wants to. Clearly, at the Debate, the panelists, to their credit, didn't bait him, and Keyes chose to present himself as Mr. Reasonable. Keyes chose not to tie every issue to morality, notwithstanding that he believes and will tell you quite freely that morality guides all of his views, even when he doesn’t tell you that every other minute.

But, clearly, many times, during the last two months, Keyes not only took the bait—but he made the provocative comments without being baited. Obviously, he thought that was a way to get free press coverage and he enjoys making those comments.

Perhaps being asked by the press during the last few weeks about the blogosphere rumors of his daughter being a lesbian has taught him a certain sensitivity he was lacking before and perhaps it has taught him the political benefits and wisdom of self control.

Indeed, some talk among the staffers on the Keyes campaign suggests that the Mary Cheney incident was, as Alan likes to say, a teaching moment, except on that one, Keyes was the student.

I don’t think the above is a great explanation of Keyes' change in style, but, for now, it is going to have to do.

Oh yes, I would agree with Zorn []. The debate, if you are scoring it technically, as if you were a relatively impartial listener without a great ideological bent, was a draw. Of course, all things considered, that makes it a win for Keyes. That is, this debate, at least for an evening, puts Keyes on the same level with Obama, who the polls have 50 points ahead of Keyes.

Indeed, as they say, just putting Keyes on the same stage as Obama, tends to help Keyes. That, of course, is one of the reasons why Obama reneged on his offer to do six televised debates.

Will the debate matter? Doubtful. Sadly, the radio audience, compared to TV, is pretty thin.

On the other hand, if the media give the debate big play, and if the media give a favorable treatment of Keyes new demeanor to their readers and viewers, or even a neutral treatment, that could have an impact. But, those are a few big ifs.
Jeff Berkowitz, host and producer of Public Affairs, can be reached at